The numbers are startling. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 11.5 million job openings on the last business day of March 2022. This amount sets a record for the highest open job positions in American history—beating 11.4 million job openings in December 2021. And that December record broke the previous one, set only five months before in July 2021. This BLS report also shows that the number of hires and quits is remarkably high: 6.7 million workers were hired and 6.4 million workers quit their jobs at the start of 2022. According to Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, “The hires rate remains higher than the quits rate in every major industry. This indicates that when workers quit, they are taking other jobs—likely in the same sector—not dropping out of the labor force altogether.”
This BLS report is just the latest dataset in a trend: high job openings, large hiring numbers and, most notably, historically massive employee quit rates. All of these factors mark the titanic labor market shift that’s been happening since late 2020: a phenomenon analysts, writers, and politicians are calling “the Great Resignation.” Read on to learn why so many people are quitting and why now’s the perfect time to accelerate your career at ACU Online.
The Paradox of the Great Resignation
Initially, when one hears that job quitting is at an all-time high, the knee-jerk reaction might be that this is a bad thing. Maggie Mertens, in an article titled “What You Find When You Leave Your Job”, interviewed a series of people who quit in 2021 and all of them expressed some sense of awkwardness or shame at having quit “great jobs.” Mertens argues this is a distinctly American phenomenon, because our “work and identities intertwine particularly tightly, thanks to the country’s industrious Puritan roots and capitalist ethos…It’s common to believe that making our job a central component of our identity is noble, because it’s sure to lead to some great payoff.” For Americans, even as our world has shifted so dramatically, an individual’s worth tied to their productivity still remains deeply ingrained in many of us.
As Derek Thompson quips, for Americans “quitting is a concept typically associated with losers and loafers.” But, paradoxically, the Great Resignation’s amount of quitting is actually an incredibly good thing for many workers. Thompson continues:
“But this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better. You may have heard the story that in the golden age of American labor, 20th-century workers stayed in one job for 40 years and retired with a gold watch. But that’s a total myth. The truth is people in the 1960s and ’70s quit their jobs more often than they have in the past 20 years, and the economy was better off for it. Since the 1980s, Americans have quit less, and many have clung to crappy jobs for fear that the safety net wouldn’t support them while they looked for a new one. But Americans seem to be done with sticking it out. And they’re being rewarded for their lack of patience: Wages for low-income workers are rising at their fastest rate since the Great Recession. The Great Resignation is, literally, great.
This is the paradox (and promise!) of the Great Resignation. Employees aren’t leaving their jobs because they’re lazy or are feeling more pessimistic about the world. Workers, particularly young and low-income workers, are leaving because—due to an increased safety net from pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan interest rate freezes—they feel confident enough to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else. The Great Resignation, then, is a sign of economic health: a worker’s renaissance demonstrating the paradoxical good that a brutal pandemic brought to the employee class.
The Dark Side of Working (Too) Hard
This is definitively a good thing because, while Americans are famous for valuing productivity, industriousness, and hard work—there’s a dark side. A study by the Center for American Progress found that work-family conflict is much higher in the United States than elsewhere in the developed world. A large reason for this is because Americans work longer hours than employees in most other developed countries. In fact, the typical American middle-income family works an average of 11 more hours a week than it did in 1979.
Yet, according to the Economic Policy Institute, despite Americans’ work hours increasing and our overall economic net productivity increasing by 59.7%, a typical worker’s compensation grew by only 15.8%. This means that worker productivity has grown 3.5 times as much as pay for the typical worker. For the last 40 years, the average American worker has been putting in much more into the labor market than they’ve been getting out of it.
From these statistics, it’s obvious that, for the last few decades, the management class has reigned supreme. Bosses could rely on a stable, low employee turnover rate and depressed job openings to exercise considerable workplace power and maintain lower wages. In this environment, work-life boundaries for employees often suffered. As Ellen Ernst Kossek, a social scientist who studies work-life boundaries, notes, “Being a ‘good employee’ in the U.S. has traditionally meant being highly engaged and sometimes working much more than 40 hours a week.” And, as virtual work-from-home opportunities have proliferated, this “boundaryless” trend is only increasing.
Rebalancing the Scales
In light of this, then, the Great Resignation can be viewed as a balancing of the scales: a way for employees to exercise their newfound power. As historically high quit rates show no sign of stopping, companies who are hiring are being forced to offer higher wages, more competitive benefits, and more flexible work arrangements to woo new employees. And, hirers can either get on board or get left behind. As Christine Mellon, the executive vice president and chief people officer of Omnicell, says:
“People are going to keep bailing unless companies can dial back the stress and demands they impose on their employees. Companies also must provide employees with more autonomy and a greater sense of purpose. Some are considering what their overall employee experience had been in that job, at that company, pre- and mid-pandemic. How were they treated, managed, rewarded and inspired? And if the scales seem imbalanced, with more negatives than positives, these employees are flat-out more comfortable and confident taking a leap and changing jobs, companies and even careers.”
Or, as a recent McKinsey report memorably puts it, “Help your employees find purpose—or watch them leave.”
In short, the Great Resignation is a fantastic thing for Americans looking for a new job or a career change. It’s a searcher’s market, and the sky’s the limit for workers who are confident enough to professionalize and leverage their new valuable status. And luckily, ACU Online exists for people like this: confident, tenacious, and driven learners who want to build a better life for themselves. There’s no time like the present (literally)! Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 and accelerate your career today!